Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

* Originally posted on 23 February 2011. Re-posted as part of the Full Marks series *

I just want to gush about perfect it was. How much I loved Jane. How beautiful and poignant the writing is. How I wish it would never end but I couldn't put it down. So bear with me while I ramble about how wonderful it was.

**If you haven't read Jane Eyre – don't read this post. It is impossible to talk about with spoiling most of the story and I want you to read it without knowing what happens. A lot of the time, you probably won't understand what I am talking about anyway. You have been warned.

Jane is such a wonderfully headstrong but moral character. I constantly felt heartbroken on her behalf but nothing seemed to break her spirit. She believed in what was right and Christian and she acted upon it no matter what cost to her. She is perhaps one of the strongest characters I have ever read.

I admit to be initially incredulous at the way in which Jane leaves Thornfield Hall after the disastrous wedding and all that follows. I imagined that she would be the kind of person who would reject the kind of impropriety that behaviour demonstrates. It also seemed a bit over the top for her to then be wandering around the countryside begging and sleeping in fields. Maybe a little bit too over dramatic.

After talking to a friend though about this issue I feel a bit better about it. Jane was so fixated on doing the right and moral thing, demonstrated particularly by her returning to her Aunt on her deathbed. She had been like this for her entire life. Even at Lowood School she could not accept the injustice that she saw in the way Helen Burns could, regardless of whether it was done in the name of God or not. I can see now that Jane believed so strongly that it was wrong for her to live in sin with Rochester, as he was urging, but she didn't trust her all too human desires and so rather than betray her beliefs, even her own nature, she chose to leave Thornfield Hall urgently.

I still found the aimless wandering around the countryside a little bit melodramatic, but I know I am probably out on a limb on this issue. In any event, it serves as the way in which she comes to meet her natural family and so I can easily not worry too much about my misgivings about this section of the story.

Then there's Rochester. I don't know what to make of him. Part of me thinks that he is just so adorable. Perhaps not initially – but when they are finally at the point of declaring their feelings for each other and he explains how he has been feeling that whole time that he has been watching her and trying to figure out what she feels about him – I couldn't help but sigh a big long "aaaaawwwwwwwwww". Bless. What a sweetheart. And his reaction when he finally comes back to him at the end of the book with his sweet confusion about whether it could really her come back to him because it's just too good to be true – I couldn't help but sigh another big long "aaaaaaawwwwwwww". Bless.

On the other hand, the man has locked his crazy wife up in the attic. For years. And then tries to trick an innocent young girl into bigamy, then treats her like sh*t at the wedding when all is exposed and tries to convince her to live in sin with him. All of which he knows (or should know) that she would morally abhor, and in doing so puts her in a position where she feels her only option is practically to escape with what little she has – and we know how that turns out!

He doesn't once take responsibility for his actions (in my humble opinion anyway). I mean I know times were different back then – but there is no real sense of remorse for what he has done. There is just this sense of how hard done by he feels that he is. And he is selfish. He thinks about himself and his own happiness more than he thinks about Jane's.

And yet…. Their romance is just so sweet. He loves her. She loves him. And despite everything, they end up together. He is a sinner, but her love redeems him. Beautiful.

The wife in the attic – that is a whole other issue. I know times were different back then – but you can't help but think that locking someone in an attic would only send them more crazy. This was the only part of the story I didn't feel had any real conclusion. I wasn't satisfied with Rochester's story about how she came to be crazy and a prisoner at Thornfield Hall, it just seemed a bit one sided.

(If you ignored my advice above and are still reading this post even though you haven't read the book – at least don't read this paragraph for me) Then there is the way in which everything has such a neat conclusion. She goes to the charity school which is terrible but then it improves and she becomes a teacher there. Because she does well as a teacher she is able to become a governess, and meet the man she will fall in love with. Her potential marriage collapses when she finds that Rochester has been lying to her and she finds herself homeless and starving. Then the people that she seeks help from just coincidentally happen to be her long lost relatives. Then she gets a massive amount of money left her and becomes very rich. Then she finds that Rochester's wife has died so she can marry him. And he is blind which places them on equal footing.

It almost feels too good to be true – but you love Jane so much that it doesn't matter. You want the best for Jane and so you are willing to believe the almost unbelievable for her sake.

And what about St John Rivers! I have to admit that at one point I almost thought that she would agree to marry him. That man was horrible. Yet in the end he is able to come to understand his faults and mistakes and so is forgiven.

I think that overall this book is mostly about morality, more than Christianity or anything else.

I am not going to go too much into this because there are scholars out there that are better placed than me to talk about it. I think, however, that Bronte was sharing a powerful message that what man says about God and religion isn't always the right thing – that behaving in a manner that is moral and good is sometimes bigger than religion.

In the preface to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte says:
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.
Regardless of whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist or agnostic, I think that this is a useful lesson for everyone.

I think what best illustrated Bronte's views on these issues was the contrast between Jane Eyre and her friend Helen Burns at Lowood School. Helen accepted the way of like at Lowwod; the starvation, the diseases, the abuse and humiliation because she believed in forgiveness preached in the Bible and had convinced herself that in the name of God it was her duty to accept things as they were (that's how I saw it anyway). Jane on the other hand wasn't willing to accept the wrongs perpetrated against the inmates of Lowood School in the name of forgiveness. She saw that the behaviour of the management of the institution (the Church), although done in the name of God, was immoral and a crime against the children and those acts were worth fighting against.

The same can be seen in the character of St John Rivers. He believes that he is a Christian man (in fact he is a clergyman),and yet he is depicted as a demanding and almost deceitful man (I am thinking about when he accused Jane of going back on her promise to marry him when in fact she gave no such promise) and it often feels as though he is only doing the acts that he does in order to make himself seem better in the eyes of others.

The biggest lesson I learnt from Jane Eyre is how important it is to stand up for what you believe in and doing the right, good and honourable thing will always be the most personally rewarding.

I will just leave you with my favourite moment in the book - the moment when Rochester and Jane are having their first meaningful discussion in the living room by the fire. Jane spoke to him as if she were his equal, despite being at times confused about what he was trying to say. They were so obviously trying to get the feel for the other person and they had this instant connection and the tension between the two of them was palpable. Their discussion continued for quite some pages, and I remember closing the book when their conversation ended and just feeling exhausted and emotionally drained by their exchange.

Ultimately – what does Jane Eyre mean to me? It means passion and that living a passionate life is living a full life.

I love Jane Eyre.

8 / 8: One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.

Am I over reacting or did you love it as much as I did? Feel free to post your comments on my random thoughts and opinions, I imagine some of them might be controversial?


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